Business Continuity in an Uncertain World

Rory McEwan, director of Dunedin IT

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By Rory McEwan, Director, Dunedin IT

There’s no denying that 2020 was a year of change, with businesses putting enormous effort into ensuring they remained operational (where it was possible). While 2021 is bringing more positive news, we’ve learned that businesses should continue to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. As a direct result of this uncertainty, it is now an imperative for businesses to have a continuity strategy.

In simple terms, business continuity is about having a plan to ensure your company can continue to operate in the face of changes and technical disruptions. Once thought of as another term for disaster recovery, its definition has expanded to include cyber resilience strategies and how to use technology to maintain business operations. Given technology is constantly changing, IT teams and technology partners should play a role in reviewing and updating the plan.

Over the past year, the importance of having a business continuity strategy came to the fore because of rapid changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it isn’t just about preparing for (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime incidents like a global pandemic. It’s also about dealing with smaller incidents, such as power outages, or responding to market forces that cause short and long-term changes to your technical systems and the way you work.

A business continuity plan considers the entire organisation, to make sure everything from HR to product development and customer support is always functional. You need to determine which areas of your business are vulnerable, and the potential challenges if systems go down for any length of time. This impact analysis is a key component of a business continuity plan.

Developing an impact analysis is also an opportunity to re-examine the efficiency of your key business processes and what role technology plays in your operations. Your technology partners should be part this conversation; there may be new solutions available that are both more efficient and secure.

The plan should also contain a checklist that covers supplies, equipment, backups, and backup site locations. It should include contact information for key personnel or technology partners, and detailed strategies on how to maintain business operations in the case of both long and short-term incidents or outages no matter the time of day they occur.

A strong business continuity strategy must also consider how to manage change within the organisation itself. For example, the current necessity for flexible working will have a big impact on business operations and technology as some organisations move to a hybrid way of working. A technology model that can scale and adapt quickly is a key asset for businesses amid change.

This time last year, most businesses were rapidly moving processes and staff online remotely. Twelve months later, many of us are excited to travel the route out of lockdown. Every business will have a different approach, but it seems an overwhelming majority are at least considering new ways of working. Unilever, Deutsche Bank, Aon, and BP have all confirmed they will encourage flexible working. Other companies, such as Dropbox and Fujitsu, are either going fully remote or will take a “remote first” policy whereby working from home is the default.

With restrictions expected to ease soon, it is time for organisations to define their remote working policy and incorporate it into their business continuity plans.

Those who will continue working remotely must question whether the business tools staff are using are secure, resilient, and fit for purpose. Tools that are “just enough” to get by may have ensured business continuity over the past year, but what will be the long-term impact on productivity and performance?

On the other hand, for those businesses preparing to return to the office as soon as we can safely do so, now is a good time to assess how resilient the office is and consider new technologies that have been developed over the past year.

With the expanding definition of business continuity, there are myriad things to consider. But it’s worth noting that nowhere in a business continuity plan is a list of possible causes of interruptions. The cause doesn’t matter. What does matter is the effect: should your operations change or cease for any reason, what is most important to get back online, and how can you do so?

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